Olivia Mathisen, interior designer at Woods Bagot Brisbane, was recently appointed co-president of the Design Institute of Australia’s Queensland branch. She has previously worked as part of the design team for the Cairns Institute at James Cook University and 1 William Street, which will accommodate the Queensland Public Service.

Architecture & Design spoke to her about over designing, the Bubble and Speak speaker series and what makes good design.

You work across several sectors. Which is your favourite to work in?

If I had to choose one favourite (which is hard because I like them all!) it would be the lifestyle sector – in particular, hotel work. You get to have a little bit more fun with hotel interiors. And it’s a great sense of achievement knowing that thousands of people will be engaging with your fitout across the years.

What are some of the challenges that you face working in that sector?

Budget, budget, budget! At the end of the day, our clients are usually reporting to someone along the line who has to balance the books. I think that we as designers can at times get carried away and ‘over design’ spaces, and it’s important to constantly reflect on what the original goals for the space were and pull back where necessary. It’s the Coco Chanel approach – take one thing off before you leave the house! 

You were recently elected co-president of the DIA Queensland branch. What are you hoping to achieve as co-president?

Our commitment over the next 12 months is to continue to grow the importance of design in Queensland. It’s great to see Queensland taking action in becoming recognised as a centre of design innovation, creativity and economic development – and we want to support that the best we can. Design is a vehicle for positive change and we all need to drive this change by contributing and collaborating together. It’s the only way to ensure design is embedded at the outset of any project and help realise the full potential that design can offer.

The DIA Qld Council will be taking a hands on approach, and I’m looking forward to becoming much more involved in the design community than we ever have before. The branch is run entirely by volunteer designers, for designers, and we are keen to get stuck into producing some great events over the next few months. It’s no mean feat, but we’re up for the challenge!

You ran Bubble and Speak for DIA Queensland Branch, an inspirational speaker series initiated in 1991. How did you become involved with it?

I got involved with Bubble and Speak purely by going along to one of the breakfasts. I found the speakers absolutely fascinating and whilst they weren’t from my field of design, I gained so much from their experiences. I left with a feeling that I could do anything I set out to achieve, and take on everything that the world threw at me that day. I had to have more of that!

With an fantastic team beside me, once again who are all volunteers, we’ve heard from some great speakers - including most recently Queensland Ballet director, Li Cunxin, and Violent Femmes bass guitarist, Brian Ritchie. I can see on the audience’s faces, some of whom are not even from the design industry, that the inspiration is catching and that’s a great feeling in itself. 

Why are events like this important for designers?

Events like Bubble and Speak are important for designers as they not only provide a great opportunity to network within your industry, but allow you to engage across the whole spectrum of design. From fine art and graphic design to interiors and fashion, Bubble and Speak aims to showcase them all. I would hope that all our DIA Qld branch events encourage broader thinking outside our immediate view points, and strengthen the conversations about design within the industry, government and private sector. 

What does good design mean to you?

Good design has to fulfill its function foremost, and be efficient in its use of space. As a member of the DIA, and subsequently an accredited designer, good design to me also means adhering to the code and ethics of design. I am fortunate enough to work for a company that champions ethical design and I personally believe in supporting authentic design, and the Australian manufacturing industry where you can.

To me, it’s not just specifying a product for a project - you have to know where it’s been sourced from and the manufacturing process behind it. This year, I’ve even learnt how to service an in-wall cistern, just so I could answer a client question if it ever was asked! 

If you weren't a designer, what would you be doing?

My sister and I have this dream that we’ll both one day completely change careers and open a florist shop. Our grandma used to be a florist and she keeps reminding us that it’s not all scented blooms and weddings - but standing on your feet all day and working with fussy brides! It’s a pipe dream for us, but on second thoughts, might require just that little bit more thought before we take the plunge.